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Each summer, the football world centers around the enshrinement of the newest Pro Football Hall of Fame class of enshrinees. On Saturday August 8, the six-man Class of 2009 – Bob Hayes, Randall McDaniel, Bruce Smith, Derrick Thomas, Ralph Wilson, Jr., and Rod Woodson – will be formally enshrined into the Hall of Fame.

A grand stage that stretches from sideline to sideline is erected the stadium’s east end zone. Joining the newest inductees on the platform is a who’s who of football’s past. Making this sport’s enshrinement ceremony so unique from others is the fact that so many members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame return to Canton to welcome the new class. Typically, sixty-plus members of the Hall of Fame sit on stage during the enshrinement ceremony. [Click here to see a group shot from last year>>>]

The initial list of RSVPs reveals more than 80 members of the HOF will be in Canton for August's Enshrinement Festival. The list will grow in the weeks leading up to the August celebration and we’ll update it regularly.

List (as of Aug. 7, 2009)>>>

One Hall of Famer who annually makes the trek to Canton is Bill Dudley, the last surviving member of the Class of 1966. A multi-talented star for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions, and Washington Redskins in the 1940s and ‘50s, “Bullet Bill” will be on hand once again in 2009.

“I’m just happy to be a part of it,” commented Dudley by phone on Tuesday. “I played the game, because I loved it. I still do love it.”

Dudley is one of many greats who enjoys the opportunity to not only welcome the newest group of enshrinees but to visit with old friends and Hall of Fame “teammates.”

Hall of Fame tight end
Ozzie Newsome, who today serves as the Baltimore Ravens General Manager & Executive Vice President will celebrate the 10th anniversary of his induction this year.

“First, there’s no community that fully embraces an event like Canton does for the Hall of Fame inductions. It’s very special to witness this and be a part of it. Going there also serves as avivid and meaningful reminder of how special your induction was,” Newsome commented.

“And, I’m always inspired by the acceptance speeches, and seeing how important the induction is to the person, his family and friends. Finally, there’s something special about seeing the other Hall of Fame players. When we talk about football, we speak a common language to each other. We see the game the same way.”

Often times special bonds are developed between individuals who are enshrined together. Such is the case with Class of 2003 enshrinee Elvin Bethea. An eight-time Pro Bowler with the Houston Oilers, Bethea and fellow “classmate” Joe DeLamielleure began a friendship that has grown very strong over the past six years. The two talk weekly.

“We’re so close, we might as well be brothers,” stated Bethea.

In August, Elvin and his wife Pat are flying to Charlotte to meet Joe and his wife Geri. The two couples will then drive together to Canton for the festivities.

Perhaps a moment that Bethea observed during last year’s Enshrinement Festival best puts the tradition into perspective. While riding in the parade that takes place on the morning of the enshrinement, Bethea saw a child about seven or eight years old holding a cardboard sign.

“It said ‘Thanks for coming back to the Hall of Fame,’” shared Bethea.

“Priceless. You can’t say more than that.”

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